Elder John Lai, Outstanding Historian of Taiwan Church, Dies at 102

(Photo/ from Facebook of Elder Lai)

Taiwan Church News

3772 Edition

June 10 ~ 16, 2024

Weekly Topical

Elder John Lai, Outstanding Historian of Taiwan Church, Dies at 102

Reported by Lin Yi-ying

Elder John Yung-hsiang Lai, an honorably member of the PCT Church History Committee died of kidney failure at 10 p.m. on June 7( Taiwan time) at the Life Care Center in Boston, USA. He dies at 102-years-old.

Rev Lin Shi-yang recalled in the interview how the renown website, “Elder John Lai’s Archives”, was established, when he initially came to serve as pastor of the Boston Taiwanese Christian Church in 2007. He proposed to both Elder John Lai and Elder Lin Jun-yu how to set up an online archive and share Elder John Lai’s abundantly collected Taiwan church stories and files via internet, Rev Lin said.

Later, Rev Lin’s wife, Mrs Lee Hsiu-chin, showed Elder Lai the website she had designed. Elder Lai was very satisfied with the website then and agreed to launch the “Elder John Lai’s Archives” website, which is now still available online. Rev Lin said that this website was compiled by Elder Lai using his library expertise and it is the richest treasure of the Taiwanese church history.

When the first Northern American Taiwanese Literature Summer Camp was held at Boston in 1995, Elder Lin Jun-yu, general secretary of the Common Taiwanese Bible Association (CBTA), expressed that Elder Lai was awarded as the honorary chairman of the CBTA for his influential article about the history of POJ(Peh-Oe-Ji, Romanized Taiwanese) which made a great contribution to the Taiwanese language movement.

Elder John Lai’s in-depth review of POJ even attracted a notice from Prof Lu Hsing-chang, an acclaimed literature professor at the Department of Taiwanese Literature at National Cheng Kung University, who specially flew to Boston to seek help from Elder Lai when he was studying the literary dimensions of POJ, Elder Lin said.

Elder Lin Jun-yu remarked that in the afternoon on June 6, he and brothers and sisters of the Boston Taiwanese Christian Church went to the nursing center to see Elder Lai. At that time, Elder Lai was lying on the bed and the visitors sang the hymns around him, Elder Lin said, Elder Lai looked calm but did not speak but unexpectedly he was passed away in the morning on June 7th.

Elder Lin said that Elder Lai was originally living at home, but recently he was transferred to a nursing center due to minor health problems. Elder Lin recalled that last time he and Elder Lai met was on February 4, 2024, and they had a wonderful Japanese meal together. To his surprise, Elder Lin said, June 6 would be the last time they met, it’s just a few months later. However, Elder Lin thanked God for leading him to acquaint and invite Elder Lai as his Taiwanese language mentor on the path to publish the Common Taiwanese Bible.

According to the “Elder John Lai’s Archives”, Elder Lai was born in Hou-Bi Township, Tainan County on September 21st, 1922. He spent his childhood in Keelung and was admitted to Taihoku High School with excellent grades. After graduation, he entered Tokyo Imperial University to study law and graduated in 1944. After the WWII, Elder Lai returned to Taiwan and was hired as a full-time teacher in Yan Ping College, which was then under preparation to recruit students. On December 26, 1946, he married Ms Liu Ching-li, the eldest daughter of Liu Ching-yun, descendants of a prestigious family in Tainan.

In March 1951, Elder Lai entered the National Taiwan University Library to serve as director of Reading Service. In 1972, he went to the United States to serve as deputy director of the Harvard-Yenching Library until his retirement in 1995. His outstanding service for libraries in Taiwan and overseas lasted for nearly 45 years. In June 2001, Taiwan Theological Seminary awarded Elder Lai an honorary Doctor of Humanities in recognition of his eminent contributions to the study of Taiwan Church history.

Translated by Peter Wolfe